The Russian armed forces are set to take the Mi-8 MTPR-1 helicopter equipped with the Rychag-AVM electronic countermeasures (ECM) system. A further development of the semi-experimental Rychag-AV that was combat tested in Syria, the AVM version features higher emitting power, more channels, a wider frequency band, and is claimed to be the most modern and powerful ECM system ever used on rotorcraft.
Developed by Kaluga-based Scientific and Research Radio-Technical Institute (Russian acronym KNIRTI), a member of the KRET Corporation, the Rychag family represents a next-generation ECM system intended for installation on warships and road and flying vehicles. In army service, it would complement the Smalta ECM and is intended for the protection of valuable pieces of equipment of the land forces from being hit by aerial and missile strikes within a 300 km (190 nm) radius. The system is able to detect and classify threats using Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) technology and suppress them in a smart way so as to attain the most efficiency possible.
The “AV” suffix points at a version for rotorcraft. The first experimental Mi-8 MTPR-1 outfitted with the L-187A core mission equipment commenced flight tests in 2014. It employed the Mi-8 MTV5-1 (export designation Mi-17V-5) mainstream platform and 1,500-kg (3,307-pound) mission equipment.
Outwardly, the Mi-8 MTPR-1 differs from a serial Mi-17V5 in not having the ramp and armor plates protecting the pilot cabin. It comes with a narrow side door, fewer windows, and additional antennas on the fuselage and tailboom. Deliverable examples are assembled at Kazan Helicopters and then undergo mission equipment outfit at the nearby Kazan Optics Mechanical Plant (KOMP). The Russian armed forces are believed to have received all 18 such machines under the contract placed in 2013.
The Rychag-AV comes with a threat analysis system that gathers, stores, and processes information on detected signals being emitted by sources not attributed to friendly systems in continuous, impulse, and quasi-continuous modes. When in an automatic mode, the system makes decisions about suppression of those signals that were rendered as “dangerous threats,” for which it can form a jamming pattern in different frequencies and directions. Electric power available is distributed between emitting channels in an optimal way to ensure sufficient jamming. A database stored on the helicopter is interconnected via a protected datalink with ground stations to exchange information on newly detected signals classified as those belonging to hostile systems and store them into memory.
Having passed initial testing, the Rychag has been subjected to operational trials in Syria. Photos of the Mi-8 MTPR-1 surfaced last year, in both Russian and Syrian markings. There is no information whether the government in Damascus purchased the system or hired it from Russia. Earlier, KRET officials told reporters that several foreign customers had applied for an export version of the Rychag-AV.
Suggestions have been made that the Russian expeditionary force called for the Rychag employment in Syria to protect its main bases in Khmeimeem and Tartous from the growing threat of UCAV raids. Starting last year, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) had been launching hordes of drones from rebel-held Idbil province—up to fifty a month—against the two main Russian bases.
Addressing the issue, defense minister Sergei Shoigu said, “We have thoroughly studied the means of armed warfare waged by the militants, including those of foreign make and amateurish, to work out effective methods to counter them. To counter the massive raids of hostile UCAVs, Russian forces have built up an echelon defensive system of reconnaissance and surveillance, anti-aircraft means, and electronic warfare.”
Syrian experience has necessitated changes to be introduced into the initial system. Following a few months of operational trials, the decision was made to launch an improved variant into quantity production. Whereas the initial Rychag-AV was primarily intended to suppress UAV command lines and fire control radars of surface-to-air missile and artillery systems, the improved “AVM” version features “the expanded frequency range that covers not only fire-control radars, but also a large number of systems for combat management, including those to monitor movements of troops on the battlefield, as well as datalink, relay, navigation, radiolocation, etcetera,” a KRET spokesman explained. Instead of the Mi-8MTV5-1, the newer system makes use of the Mi-8AMTSh produced by the Russian Helicopters plant in Ulan-Ude.